MOORLACH UPDATE — Voice of OC — November 11, 2010

I hope you’re enjoying a quiet, warm and windy Veterans Day.

This morning I had the privilege of honoring a friend and longtime Costa Mesa resident, 1st Lt. Harold “Bud” Hohl, USMC (Ret.) and his wife Carol.  They were officially interred today during the annual Costa Mesa Veterans Day Ceremony at Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park, where we also dedicated the new Veterans Memorial Garden that Bud had worked on for many years before his passing.  The new monument emphasizes Bud’s consistent and powerful message:  “Lest We Forget.”

I would also encourage you to read the Walter D. Ehlers “What was it like on D-Day” speech in today’s OC Register Opinion section (see http://www.ocregister.com/opinion/day-275496-many-war.html).  Walt and Dorothy have been friends since my childhood days.  Reading his piece would be a good exercise on Veterans Day.  If you ever visit the (current) Civic Center, please read his plaque in the Medal of Honor Circle.  It is always good to be reminded that freedom is not free.

Speaking of the (current) Civic Center, the County has 100 acres on the border of the Great Park property that would make a glorious location for a new Civic Center for the generations to follow.  I brought it up as a “vision” thing during Tuesday’s Board meeting.  Moving the Civic Center to Santa Ana Boulevard and Fruit Street would also be a great idea.  Having the Civic Center there would put it opposite the train station.  Talk about going green, encouraging employees to get out of their cars, and the many other agendas that government likes to push on its taxpayers, these would be fun “vision” opportunities to consider (should we ever have the financial resources).  The Voice of OC provides my “musings” in the first piece.

I have been serving on the CalOptima Board of Directors for nearly four years (probably longer than any other Supervisor during its short history).  I am concerned about the health care system in our county.  I have been doing my best to be an eager student on the topic of providing health care coverage for the bottom economic strata of our population.  Kathy Moran has health care as a primary focus as one of my policy advisors.  The Voice of OC starts a dialogue in the second piece that I hope to be sharing more of in the coming months.

One Man’s Quest to Move a Civic Center

Orange County supervisors are busy trying to figure out what to do with a prime 100-acre piece of real estate they acquired from the U.S. Navy when Irvine created the Great Park out of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

They’ve talked about some mixed-use commercial and residential developments instead of land-banking the property for later generations.

But one of their colleagues, John Moorlach, has a different goal.

"This would make a great civic center," Moorlach said this week during a public update on the land.

Sounding like a real estate agent, Moorlach ticked off the property’s advantages: freeway and train accessibility and ability to feed off of the Great Park development. "If the Great Park is ever developed, it would be an incredible location," he said.

Moorlach is often critical of the Santa Ana location of the civic center, but he hasn’t yet succeeded in getting any of his colleagues support his call for the moving vans.

When asked this week about the issue, Irvine officials said they were aware of Moorlach’s musings but weren’t saying anything else.

— NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.

How These Guys Have a Say in Your Future Healthcare

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Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach and U.S. President Barack Obama. Moorlach will be a big player in how Obama’s healthcare law is implemented in Orange County. (Photo illustration: Kenny Rivera)

As landmark healthcare reform begins its journey from the drawing board to reality in the United States, California will be at the forefront of the changes in how healthcare is delivered and paid for in this country.

The picture of how the sweeping federal healthcare reform act and new state laws will look at street level remains out of focus. And lawmakers, lobbyists and healthcare providers will be hashing out — and fighting over — the details of the new laws for years to come.

But what is clear is that it’s not just President Barack Obama and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (and soon, Governor-elect Jerry Brown) who have a say in how Orange County residents will receive healthcare in this new age.

Local officials — especially the Orange County Board of Supervisors — will have their say too.

"It’s always when they get into the process of things," noted Kathleen Moran, executive analyst in Supervisor John Moorlach’s office, "it gets interesting."

The fact that Moorlach and the other supervisors have a say in some of the outcomes set in motion by Obama and backed by Schwarzenegger speaks to the depth of the changes that already are taking effect.

And the speed with which the political landscape keeps changing on healthcare — the Republican capture of the U.S. House of Representatives in this month’s elections being the latest round — only adds to the uncertainty.

Where Things Stand

The thrust of the Obama health plan is to get health insurance for virtually everyone. By 2014, almost all Americans will be required to have health insurance or face a fine, with the exception of those too poor to afford insurance.

In addition, health insurance exchanges will be established in each state — either set up by the state or by the federal government if states refuse — to offer insurance for high-risk patients and the uninsured.

California will be at the front of the line for this rollout. The Obama administration reallocated $10 billion in Medicaid funds this month to the state to expand coverage to those who make less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $14,404 a year for a single adult.

The state’s leadership role, if it goes well, could make California the poster child for successful reform. And in addition to the federal legislation, new state laws were enacted this year that are already speeding up the reform process.

The first state change affects adults with preexisting conditions that either caused insurance companies to turn them down for coverage or set the cost of insurance so high that the individuals couldn’t afford it.

A new law makes those adults eligible for coverage, and there is $761 million in federal funding to support it.

"This was kind of the first milestone," said Marta Bortner, assistant associate secretary for Health Care Reform in the state Department of Health and Human Services.

One of the most controversial sections of the new federal law is the requirement that states set up insurance "exchanges." The exchanges simply are a way for those who aren’t covered by insurance at work to shop for coverage.

California is among the first to get started on creating the exchanges. Effective Jan. 1, the state will begin setting up the system so that it is ready to go when the federal law takes effect in 2014.

And although local officials can’t change federal or state law, they do have a say in how it is implemented in Orange County.

The Suspense Builds

Moorlach sits on the board of CalOptima, the county program put into effect in 1993 to coordinate Medi-Cal locally.

Neither the supervisors nor the CalOptima board has yet taken a position on the areas of health reform they can affect locally. But staffers at both agencies are busy on background research, and the CalOptima board is scheduled to hold a retreat Dec. 9 to discuss all of the changes and their implications.

The speed at which everything is moving and the "steep timeline" has Moorlach concerned about "so many moving parts."

Legally, according to both Moran and Julie Puentes, Orange County spokeswoman for the Hospital Association of Southern California, Orange County can decide not to have CalOptima participate in the insurance exchange, leaving it solely to private firms to provide the choices of coverage for those whose employers don’t offer plans.

Or, Moran said, the supervisors could decide to expand the program. What the supervisors do, she said, "that’s going to be the thing to watch."

CalOptima insures 402,000 residents of Orange County, CalOptima Director of Government Affairs Yunkyung Kim said. And since the Great Recession began in late 2007, the numbers have been climbing. Enrollment rose 2 percent in 2008, 6 percent in 2009, nearly 11 percent so far this year; and in 2011 it’s expected to be up 7 percent.

California Democratic Party Leader John Burton, former president pro tem of the state Senate, was a young member of the California Assembly in 1965 when the state’s adoption of federal Medicaid went through the Legislature, the last time such significant changes in healthcare occurred.

It required a special session of the Legislature to enact the state components, he said, but "there were fairly few hiccups."

There might be more hiccups this time. There is little interest among Republicans — from Orange County to Washington — to see Obama’s healthcare reform go smoothly. Already, leaders of the new Republican majority in the U.S. House have vowed to repeal federal legislation, and local Republicans are likely to take cues from their colleagues in Washington.

"It’s a changing, moving target," Moran said.

But the next presidential election is only two years away. And if Republicans in Washington can financially delay significant parts of the program and then win the 2012 presidential election, as well as control of Congress, they could make good on their vow to repeal health reform.

In the meantime, the action is with the Board of Supervisors. The Hospital Association and the Orange County Taxpayers Association have both urged the board to change the county law and block CalOptima from offering health insurance to those outside Medi-Cal.

Puentes said that if CalOptima begins offering health insurance to individuals who don’t get it at work, it’s possible that more than one-fourth of Orange County’s 3 million residents could be covered by government health insurance, including the Medicare program for those age 65 and up, when coverage is expanded in 2010.

Puentes said the major Hospital Association concern is that if CalOptima offers insurance to those who aren’t covered by employers, the numbers, coupled with those who receive Medicare, would be so large that hospitals couldn’t cover their expenses.

Government insurance programs of all types, she said, "don’t cover costs." If CalOptima participated in the insurance exchange, it would bring even more people into a government-funded program.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org, and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracy111. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

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